Monday, June 24, 2019

Missouri Wine: Excelsior Springs is a Craft Beverage Destination

In 1880, what is now downtown Excelsior Springs was a wheat field. Yet, within the end of the decade, Excelsior Springs was a vibrant town with transportation links provided by stage and rail and with a resort hotel – the Elms Hotel. The discovery of healing mineral springs instigated this growth and eventually more than 40 mineral water wells and springs were identified. In fact, “there are more groupings of mineral springs in Excelsior Springs than anywhere else in the world”. (1)

Over the next several decades the town expanded fueled by healing tourism and a water bottling plant. The current Elms Hotel was completed in 1912 (the first two were destroyed by fire) and the Hall of Waters was completed in 1938. This facility was built as a Federal Public Works Administration project and at its “height was the most completely outfitted health resort in the state”. (2) President Franklin Roosevelt was a visitor and most likely used a wheelchair enabled ramp to bath in the mineral waters. And only a few years later, President Harry Truman was residing at the Elms Hotel when it was declared he won the 1948 presidential election. Since that heyday, the mineral water industry and spa tourism faded so that the Hall of Waters is now occupied by government and business organizations. Only the Elms Hotel operates in its past grandeur.

Recently, however, tourists are starting to return to Excelsior Springs partly attracted by the growing wine industry surrounding the town. This industry is anchored by the Willow Springs Mercantile, a bistro craft beverage shop that houses the largest selection of Missouri wines in the Show Me state. In addition, they sell a large assortment of Missouri craft beer and spirits as well as other items. The Mercantile is also the start of the Excelsior Springs Chamber Trolley which through various tours safely transports visitors to the area’s three wineries: Van Till Family Farm Winery, Fence Stile Vineyards & Winery, and Four Horses and a Dog Vineyard. And for craft beer lovers, two microbreweries are located within walking distance of both the Elms and the Mercantile.

Van Till Family Farm Winery
This winery is celebrating its 10 year anniversary as Cliff and Debbie Van Till established the winery after first planting a vineyard in their Rayville property. This small vineyard includes several grape varieties well accumulated to the local climate such as Norton, Chambourcin, Vignoles, Traminette, Brianna, and Edelweiss. Because they offer 36 wines, they augment this fruit from other Missouri vineyards and attempt to “create the highest quality wine that we are able to do”. That’s a lot of quality control and expect plenty of intriguing options. They provide three versions of Missouri’s signature grape Norton with a Van Till Estate, Missouri Reserve, and Missouri Special Reserve. Also try the Missouri Vignoles and the Van Till Brianna and Van Till Edelweiss in order to compare and contrast the tropical notes from the Brianna with the stone fruit of the Edelweiss. Before setting down for a glass and wood-fired pizza, don’t forget the Norton Dessert Wine or Chocolate Rose.

Fence Stile Vineyards & Winery
Also celebrating 10 years of operation, Fence Stile is located just a few miles southeast of town and also creates wines from estate and Missouri fruit. Six grape varieties were first planted in the estate in 2007 with two more added in 2016. Chambourcin and Norton are the predominant red grape varieties and are often blended together like in the Backpack Red. This wine is fruit forward with plenty of cherries, spices, and a noticeable friendly acidic finish. Vidal and Vignoles are the primary white wines and the Missouri Vignoles is particularly delicious with its pineapple dominated flavor and textured fresh finish.

Four Horses and a Dog Vineyard
This partnership is situated north of town and is run by two couples, Mike + Cheryl Jennings and Stephen + Jeanine Stubbs. Their joint love for wine enticed them to plant grapes in 2008 and release their first vintage in 2013. For red wines, they feature Chambourcin, Noiret, and Chancellor, with the Original Cin Chambourcin particularly interesting with its dark fruit, spices, and easy tannins. As expected Vignoles is a popular white option but seek out the Missouri Sunday Ride Viognier if available. The grapes are sourced from a vineyard in Missouri’s boot (far southeast corner) which must have a suitable micro-climate for this finicky viniferia grape. The wine itself well represents the grape with soft peaches and vibrant acidity.

Atlas Saloon Brewery
Atlas Saloon first opening during Excelsior Springs’ major expansion in 1894 and served as Schlitz bar even through prohibition – illicitly of course. In 2009 Jim McCullough, owner of nearby Walbash BBQ, purchased the saloon and in July 2018 introduced a brewery. He hired Keith Hudson as the brewmaster who continues to brew in the German tradition with beers that would make Joseph Schlitz proud. In fact, the Atlas Special Brew is a replica of the original Schlitz lager, fermented using Bohemian yeast that is similar to what Schlitz used in the 1860’s and six row barley in the German tradition. Crystal Lithia Kolsch and Maurer's Munich Helles are two other excellent German-inspired beers with the portfolio rounded out with two Scots-Irish: a Siloam Irish Stout and McCleary's Scottish Ale.

Dubious Claims Brewing Company
The brewery is named after the reports from national media on the “dubious claims” of healing mineral water. So, “forget the water and drink the beer”. The facility is located within eyesight of the Elms Hotel and actually a block away from the boundary of the original hotel. The pub-kitchen microbrewery offers a balanced beer menu so don’t be shy descending to the dark and heavy brews listed at the bottom. The Elixir Stout is made in the German Dry Stout style with hints of chocolate and coffee. The Embalmer Milk Stout provides more coffee – this time with cream and the Whiskey Barrel Aged Milk Stout feels like you spiked your morning coffee. Finally, try the Chocolate Cherry Delight Porter if available it’s just what its name suggests.

(1) Visit Excelsior Springs Missouri - Our History

(2) Visit Excelsior Springs Missouri - Hall of Waters

See other posts of the trips at Missouri Wine.

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